Nicola Sturgeon leaves health in reshuffle

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has left her post as health secretary in a cabinet reshuffle announced today by Alex Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s longest serving health secretary, will now become cabinet secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities. Her role as cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing will be assumed by Alex Neil.

She will combine her new post with responsibility for government strategy and the constitution, previously a full cabinet position held by Bruce Crawford. This role will see her driving the SNP government’s independence campaign. Ms Sturgeon commented on her move on Twitter. She said: “It has been a privilege to have been Health Sec – my thanks to all the wonderful people I have worked with. We are so very lucky in our NHS.

I am now really looking forward to [my] new job – working for economic recovery & making the case for Scotland’s future as an independent nation.”

The reshuffle was caused by the retirement of Mr Crawford along with two ministers, Brian Adams who was minister for parliamentary business and the Minister for Environment and Climate Change Stewart Stevenson.

Mr Adams will be replaced by Joe Fitzpatrick, MSP for Dundee City West while Paul Wheelhouse, MSP for South Scotland, will take over from Mr Stevenson.

Original article here –

Colin Fox interview

There had been a demonstration by postal workers in Edinburgh against the privatisation of Royal Mail services earlier on the day we met. Colin Fox, top Lothian list candidate for the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) arrives in a sunny Nicholson Square fresh from lending his support the the protesting posties. Earlier in the week he was in London for an anti-cuts rally. Fox, it seems, is happiest out on the streets campaigning and talking to people. He said:-

“I’m in Princes Street every Thursday, Friday and Saturday lunchtime and I would advise every politician in the country to do that. If you want feedback from the people stand with a megaphone, right in the middle of Princes Street and talk to people.”

Fifty year-old Fox was raised in a typical working class family in Motherwell. He has been involved in socialist politics in one form or another for most of his adult life. He recalls one incident growing up in Lanarkshire that played a vital part in shaping his political convictions:

“One of the things that personally influenced me looking back was that there was a radical theatre company called 7:84 who had a play that was touring and I went to see it at Viewpark Community Centre. The play was called The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil and I remember thinking that was terrific. It just evoked a spirit in me and an idea that working people should be given the opportunity to make their own decisions.”

Today when asked what the policies are that the SSP are campaigning on as he seeks to return to Holyrood, where he was an MSP between 2003 and 2007, Fox is in no doubt of the major issue and said:-

“The election for us is dominated by the economy and cuts. This idea that there have got to be cuts in the public sector and that there has got to be rising unemployment in this area: our premise is we don’t accept this. The whole idea that the country is grievously over-spent : our view is that is complete nonsense. We don’t accept the cuts. The reason we are in the position we are is that we bailed out the banks. In other words the bankers caused the crisis and they are the ones that should pay for it.”

Raising taxes, especially for the wealthy, is another flagship policy of the SSP. Fox makes no apologies for this saying:

“Tax raising powers don’t frighten us any. All the talk now is we are going to cut taxes. Our attitude is the rich have got to start paying their fair share of taxes now – currently they (the rich) are avoiding it. We want to scrap the council tax which is unfair. It is based on a nominal valuation of your house and is therefore nothing to do with your income. There are people whose income is literally coppers, like pensioners, paying a quarter of their entire income on this one bill. The council tax is a fraud, a con and it has got to be replaced with something based on your income.”

Fox has lived in Edinburgh since 1995 and has strong views on what the challenges facing the capital are – and how they need to be tackled. He said:-

“Edinburgh is the most cosmopolitan city we have in Scotland, that’s the great thing. Even people from Motherwell are accepted here!  However the dichotomy here is that enormous wealth exists in this city cheek by jowl with extreme poverty. We have people going under every five minutes, where every bill pulls them under the water. They are the forgotten citizens of this city and I can tell you exclusively that I really don’t care about JK Rowling or (RBS chief executive) Stephen Hester or big houses in Grange or Barnton, my concern is that the vast majority of the population of this city are struggling to get by in indecent housing and on indecent wages. So the most important issue in Edinburgh is redistributing the enormous wealth to those that need it the most from those that have the most whether it be in health, social care or wages that is what needs to be done.”

Fox is realistic enough to realise he and his party have a tough battle ahead to gain at this election:-

“As a democrat, and I am a democrat and a socialist, I fight to win every election I stand in.  But we are realistic enough to know that because of the Sheridan nonsense and other things, we still have to prove to the people that the SSP have our heads and eyes on the prize. Working people feel we let them down, and it is my job to show them that we are still fighting for them.”

Yes Tommy Sheridan, Fox’s former SSP colleague, whose fall from grace rocked the SSP, could cast a shadow over the party. When asked about the Sheridan effect Fox claims that it does not get raised often specifically but is seen as part of a wider problem.

“The Sheridan thing never specifically comes up but what comes up is people saying, MSPs, politicians – all bent as a three pound note, every last one of them.”

As for a political high point Fox, who introduced the initial bill in the Scottish Parliament to abolish prescription charges, cites this important achievement in the history of the party.

“From April the 1st, prescription charges no longer exist in Scotland after more than 50 years. They are abolished in part, I don’t seek to take all the credit as it is the SNP government after all that has abolished them, due to my bill, we blazed the trail here. The SSP has a right to feel proud in our part of standing up for ordinary people in this matter.”

When asked for his hopes for the Scottish Parliament and Scotland in the future, Fox offers up a slice of his political philosophy:-

“There is a quotation from Boys from the Blackstuff and it is ‘every man has his price but the incorruptible man has the highest price of all.’ And I have my price, I will sell the jerseys tomorrow if we have a socialist society based on need, where the poor are cared for and the rich pay their way. That’s my price, it is perhaps a price politicians from other parties cannot afford to have, but at least I’m honest enough to admit I have one.”

Original article here –

Alex Orr interview

Alex Orr looks like a PR man’s ideal election candidate.  Tall and tanned, when we meet him, he is dressed in a smart suit and drinking a latte.  Which is less surprising, perhaps, when you find out that Orr is both a PR man and a candidate on the Lothian list for the SNP.

In fact it was through his work that Orr first became interested in the SNP.  He said:-

“I ran the media campaign for Scotland FORward, which was the referendum  campaign in 1997 seeking a yes-yes vote for the Scottish Parliament. Through meeting a lot of individuals from the SNP, such as Alex Salmond, I  became quite convinced that independence was the way forward for Scotland.”

Orr joined the party in 1998, and soon became heavily involved. He stood for election to The City of Edinburgh Council for the first time in 1999, and as a candidate for Holyrood in both 2003 and 2007. He is now a member of the party’s National Executive Committee, helping to shape strategy on policy.

On the SNP’s strategy for the May election, Orr is adamant that the party should draw heavily on its record in government.

“The main campaign point we are fighting on is the record of the  SNP.  Despite being a minority administration, the SNP have managed to fulfil 84 out of 94 manifesto commitments.  We will also put forward to the people that we have a great track record; for example on abolishing prescription charges, 1000 more police on the streets, freezing council tax, and abolishing tuition fees.  We are going forward on that record. We are saying, look what we have achieved so far and what we can achieve if we are successful in the election.”

Orr also feels his party have a strong team in key positions.

“We have a fantastic First Minister at the moment in Alex Salmond . We have a fantastic Health secretary in Nicola Sturgeon, and one of the great triumphs at the moment is that health is not such a major issue because many of the issues that have dominated in the past, such as MRSA, have been addressed by Nicola as Health secretary. Kenny MacAskill has worked tirelessly as Justice Secretary – crime figures are falling, and we have extra police on the streets. Additionally we have John Swinney, and, through helping small businesses and  managing effectively the budget, we are in a position where unemployment in Scotland is falling in comparison to the rest of the UK.”

Of course, being a party in government leads to difficult and unpopular decisions having to be made. The most controversial of those made by the SNP since 2007 is undoubtedly the release of Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Whilst conceding public opinion is divided on the issue, Orr is adamant that the Justice Secretary acted correctly.

“Something like the Megrahi decision was very controversial, and you have to respect people who opposed that. For us as a party, on legal grounds there is a well accepted principle of compassion within the Scottish Legal system – which we are abiding by. There was nothing untoward in that decision and, if anything, it reinforced our position as a compassionate society.”

Looking to the future, Orr’s major hope for the next parliament is that it delivers an independence referendum.

“My hope is that the parliament, which is maturing, can move onto the next level. We have moved on from the union to devolution and my hope is that we can move onto an independence referendum within the term of the next parliament and that we can become an independent nation on equal footing with other nations.”

Mindful of the rocky road the proposed referendum has travelled so far, Orr makes a plea to potential MSPs of all parties:

“I hope we move out from tribalism of politics, where all the other parties vote down the referendum for party political reasons and the people of Scotland have an opportunity to vote on it.”

Warming to the theme, Orr thinks Holyrood would benefit from an injection of fresh blood to revitalise the parliament.

“I also hope we have more people in the parliament who come from outwith a narrow political sphere. I hope we have more characters coming into parliament with experience outside politics. My examples of that would be people like Robin Harper, who came from teaching, or Ian McKee who had experience as a GP, or Jim Mather who had tremendous business experience.”

To wind up, Orr returns to party politics.  He anticipates a close battle with Labour for electoral success, but is confident his party will prevail.  He told us:

“I think this is obviously going to be a very tight election.  However I think that the SNP will win this election and will have the most number of seats. However it is going to be very, very tight.”

Original article here –

Interview with Mike Pringle

Sitting in a comfortable chair in his Edinburgh South constituency office,  Mike Pringle MSP with his grey hair and casual jumper looks rather like a favourite uncle. He exudes the kind of warm friendliness that the Liberal Democrats used to thrive on. That, of course, was in the days before protesters were burning effigies of Nick Clegg.

Pringle himself is acutely aware that events in Westminster could make May’s Holyrood elections tough for his party and said:-” There is no question we are getting a lot of kickback from what is happening down south and all the associated issues. While this is Scotland, and we will be concentrating on Scottish issues that affect people in Edinburgh South, I can’t deny that the national issues may have an impact.”

Certainly Pringle is at pains to highlight differences in policy between the Scottish Lib Dems and their Westminster counterparts and pointed out:-”One of the big issues is the imposition of tuition fees. The situation of course is completely different in Scotland. Indeed, recently, I received a letter from Liam Burns of the National Union of Students congratulating the Lib Dems in Scotland on our role in amending the recent Scottish budget to secure greater funding for students.”

Born in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, Pringle moved to Edinburgh as a thirteen year old in 1958. Save a few years working in London, he has lived in the capital ever since and hopes that the voters will concentrate on the local issues he has been championing since being elected to Holyrood in 2003.  One of the main areas Pringle plans to campaign on locally is education, where he says he has been fighting  hard on behalf of Edinburgh South. He said:-”I have campaigned hard for increased funding for Boroughmuir High School having already secured government funding for a complete rebuild of James Gillespie’s High School.”

Supporting local businesses is another major theme of Pringle’s campaign. One innovative scheme he plans to launch, if re-elected, is the ‘Edinburgh South pound’. Based on a successful scheme in Totnes, Devon the plan would offer discounts to local businesses involved, thus encouraging economic growth in the area. Pringle said:- “ Similar schemes have been run successfully elsewhere and helped local businesses.  I think it is something that, if we could launch it, would benefit Edinburgh South greatly. I have approached local businesses who are prepared to back the scheme.”

Pringle has always been a keen supporter of environmental matters and sees the environment as a key Lib-Dem issue. He is a supporter of a Green Bank and hopes that it could be based in Edinburgh:-”I recently met Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne,  to discuss the setting up of a Green Bank. I was representing the whole of Edinburgh in making a case for the proposed Green Bank to come to Scotland, but specifically Edinburgh. It would bring a huge amount of jobs to the city. Even though the decision on location has not yet been made, I am relatively hopeful that it will come to Edinburgh.”

Elected in 2003 with a wafer thin majority of 158, Pringle has proved a popular constituency MSP, increasing his majority to 1,929 in 2007. He sees his constituency work as vital:-”As a local constituency MSP, I have always looked on my primary responsibility as standing up for the people. My work is defending my constituents against Local Authority planning decisions and on council tax issues, but probably the biggest area is constituents problems with NHS Lothian which  I try to help them resolve.”

Asked to pick out a personal highlight from his time in Parliament, Pringle chooses an issue he is passionate about:-”Meeting the Dahlia Lama twice was a personal highlight. I have always been a very strong supporter of Tibet and the campaign to free Tibet from the yoke of China.”

Looking to the future, Pringle feels that a majority government whether one party with an overall majority, or a coalition, is better for Scotland than a minority administration. He says: “ As far as the parliament in general is concerned I hope we have a strong parliament. I have to say that I think over  the past four years it has lacked something, because there has been a minority administration. That is not the fault of the SNP, but because they did not have an overall majority, they could not introduce the radical policies a majority administration can.”

Of his own party’s role in the new Parliament Pringle said:- ” The Lib Dems’ aim is to be back in coalition and to be able to influence things as we did from 1999 to 2007. As our colleagues in Westminster have discovered, you can only influence policy from a position of power.”

Affable as he may be, Mike Pringle is a hardened campaigner who wrestled Edinburgh South from Labour, and increased his majority. Given the Lib-Dems’ current woes, this promises to be his toughest campaign yet. Pringle will be hoping that his local record and personal popularity will see him re-elected, and not spending too much time fishing, or in the stands of his beloved Tynecastle come May.

Original article here.

Tartan tax

Alex Salmond and the late Donald Dewar in 1997

By Andy Mackie

John Swinney and the SNP government are set to come under attack today for letting Holyroods’ tax raising powers lapse.

The furore surrounding this has been intense and the SNP’s political adversaries have siezed upon the subject. However, getting past political bluster the decision in principle of refusing to pay £7m to maintain the ability to us e the tax raising powers is a sound one. Not least because none of the 4 major parties in Scotland have shown any inclination to use the powers.

Indeed 2 weeks ago when I wrote an article about the Scottish Green Partys’ proposal to use parliaments tax varying powers the responses I received from the major parties ranged from un enthusiastic to downright hostile. indeed the Lib Dems finance spokesman said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.” Yet today the same Lib Dems who are part of the coalition government in Westminster are implementing swingeing cuts to jobs, public services and benefits are railing against a decision to not spend £7m to safeguard a power they have no intention of implementing.

This is not, however to let Swinney and the SNP off the hook. In his defence Swinney yesterday said that MSP’ could not be informed of every piece of information with parliament then MSP’s would need bigger briefcases. This is undoubtedly true but this was a rather large and fundamental piece of information. Furthermore it was on an issue that the SNP campaigned vigorously on back in 1997 and one which the public may well have been interested in.

It should also be noted that on November 10th, only two weeks ago, an SNP spokesperson had this to say on the tartan tax: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.” Surely the SNP press office knew that the tartan tax was not an option until at least 2013 at this point? Or was the reason they had no plans to implement it the fact that they, but not the Scottish public, knew it was not possible?